CONSULT Trinity: Research Impact Beyond the Academy
6 April 2021 - The Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Policy Initiative is organising a series of workshops focused on bridging the information gap between the policy world and research in the Arts and Humanities. On 20 April, Dr Kate Smyth of Trinity’s newly-established consultancy office in Trinity Research and Innovation will talk about how to communicate with policy makers. Here we speak to her about the new consultancy office, her background in English studies and fiction, and how researchers can benefit from CONSULT Trinity.
What is CONSULT Trinity?
CONSULT Trinity is a pilot programme currently funded through Knowledge Transfer Ireland. The new service, officially launched in October 2019, is available to support academics who would like to apply their knowledge and expertise to help with societal challenges or contribute to cultural discourse outside of the academic world. Leading universities in the UK and the US have long included consultancy offices in the professional support services available to academics. Ireland is now recognising the valuable contribution that academics can make, if they wish, to societal, political, or cultural issues. This can include providing advice to policy-makers, guiding a Government department or charity in one of their projects or initiatives, sharing advice on a company’s objectives relating to sustainability or climate change, ethics, gender equality, mental health, linguistics and sign language policies, organisational or human resource management. A university’s primary focus is scholarship and education, but from that ideas can develop which can make a difference to the world around us.
How can you help researchers?
My role is dedicated to Trinity academics from the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences as part of Trinity’s newly-established consultancy office, CONSULT Trinity. My role is very varied and specifically focuses on marketing and communications, telling the stories of some of the brilliant research and engagement work ongoing by Trinity academics. I also ensure all the necessary legal and financial paperwork is in place so the academic can proceed with the project. I engage with the external organisation on behalf of the academic and often negotiate contracts to safeguard their research and time. I never thought I would know this much about liability and intellectual property infringement but I’ve learned a lot in the last two years!
In practical terms, how do you find out about about consulting opportunities?
The majority of projects we have supported have been brought to us by the academic, who has already been approached by an external body with a potential project. Sometimes a potential partner approaches us, inquiring about academic assistance with a problem or challenge they would like to address. This is dependent upon Trinity academics being available and – importantly – having the time to get involved. We also assist, in some cases, with applications to Government tenders. We are aware that the academic community in Trinity has lots of competing commitments. Our goal is not to add to the workload, but to alleviate it. Once an academic comes to us with a query about a possible project, we pick up the negotiations with the client. This protects the academic’s relationship with the client and allows them to get on with the project.
Tell us about your own background.
I did my PhD in the School of English, supervised by Dr Philip Coleman. My research looked at issues of belonging, identity, gender, and power and I focused on twentieth-century Canadian short fiction. Both the research itself and the skills I gained throughout the PhD have contributed significantly to my role as AHSS Officer in CONSULT Trinity. I have learned that some of the skills we in the Arts and Humanities might take for granted – such as writing and communication – are highly valuable to people from other backgrounds and disciplines. An critical eye for detail is pretty invaluable when it comes to legal contract review, as is the self-discipline I learned through doing the PhD.
What are the benefits for academics of working with CONSULT Trinity?
Trinity academics can make a direct impact on society, communicate the value of their knowledge and ideas, gain additional funds for their Trinity activities, develop examples of external impact for potential use on funding applications, and further develop their profile in Trinity. Consultancy can also be conducted privately; both routes are available to Trinity academics under the Trinity Consultancy Policy. Frequently, and especially if academics are passionate about their field of research, a large amount of work is done for little or no money. While money isn’t everything, academic expertise should be appropriately valued. Sometimes private consultancy is the right route for an academic to take. We value academic freedom above everything else. However, when doing the work privately, the academic must organise the taxes and payment personally, and can’t use their Trinity affiliation or Trinity facilities. They are also exposed to potential risk if ever the client made a complaint or refused to pay. If the academic decides to run the project through CONSULT Trinity, we negotiate a contract (so that the academic, Trinity, and the client is covered in terms of insurance etc.) and we arrange for invoicing and disbursement of funds when the time comes. We have also partnered with the Dean of Research’s RESEARCH MATTERS website, which shares stories about the varied and fascinating work ongoing in Trinity, and can be used as a form of research impact (more important now than ever on grant applications). Consultancy also counts towards academic promotions under the “Service to Discipline” category.
What have you learned about the type of expertise that is in demand from Arts and Humanities researchers?
There is such a variety of world-class research and scholarship ongoing in the Arts and Humanities in Trinity. The Trinity Long Room Hub Policy Initiative has been exploring the benefits of academic involvement in evidence-informed policy. Whether it is the specific area of research (such as special education in primary schools, or mental health in adolescents) or the capacity for critical thinking, communication, informed debate that is part of the academic methodological approach, there are many strengths common to Arts and Humanities academics which are invaluable to external partners. Particularly now, in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a reassessment of some ideas and values that are often investigated by Arts and Humanities academics, such as the importance of family, home and community, communication, travel and social isolation, class inequality and social change. Working with colleagues on the Policy Initiative and the Public Engagement strategic plans, and with the Research Impact Officers as well as the Media Relations Team, CONSULT Trinity seeks to support Trinity academics to make a difference in the world around us, while also recognising their efforts within academia and Trinity.
Could you give us an example of a recent project involving an academic from the AH?
We have supported Trinity academics to work on numerous fascinating projects since our launch, including colleagues from the Schools of Law; Education; Linguistic, Speech and Communication Sciences; Social Sciences and Philosophy; Psychology; and the Department of Classics. Dr Rebecca Usherwood from the Department of Classics shares her experience in this video of working as an academic consultant. Dr Usherwood, whose research focuses on the political and cultural history of the Roman and later Roman Empire, describes providing advice on a historical TV drama by UK production company Fifty Fathoms.
Dr Kate Smyth will speak as part of the Trinity Long Room Hub’s upcoming policy workshop ‘Communication for Policy Engagement’ on Tuesday 20th April 2021 at 13.00.
This workshop will focus on the researcher’s communication skills, showing participants how to better convey their message to policy makers and other non-academic stakeholders.
Other panellists will include:
- Sarah Bowman, Director of Strategic Engagement and Impact Assessment, Office of the Dean of Research TCD
- Dr Doireann Wallace, Project Manager, SHAPE-ID, TLRH
To find out more and register for this workshop, please click here.